We’ve all been there. You plant some new flowers or delightful little seedlings in the ground, excited that the growing season is starting out and you’ll soon have delicious fruits and vegetables ripening on the vine. You water them and make sure they are tucked into the ground, ready for their first night’s sleep in a foreign territory and say good night. And then when you wake up in the morning, there is nothing left of them. Or worse yet, you spend all summer tending to your garden, prepare yourself for a fantastic harvest, go out to your plants to pick some goodies and find this:
Oh yes, I’m talking about one of every gardeners worst enemies: slugs.
A friend of mine here in Germany recently contacted me about how she should go about starting a garden in her yard. She lives near Munich, which has a slightly different climate than ours in Frankfurt because they usually get more snow. But we all have very short growing seasons here…and we are absolutely plagued by slugs.
Our garden at the farm in Frankfurt was no exception. In fact, we got so sick of them eating our lettuce seedlings and other delicate plants that we stopped planting them out there altogether…and instead built a salad table and created raised growing beds in our courtyard.
I never did fully give up the fight, though, and when we were growing things in the big garden, there were a few tried and true methods that I relied on to get rid of slugs, which didn’t involve chemicals. Actually, I think that’s part of the reason our snail and slug problem was what it was, because our neighbor, a commercial potato farmer, doused everything in chemicals to keep slugs at bay. So my organic garden became their welcome retreat. What they didn’t realize is that I was actually laying in wait for those slugs with plenty of ammunition.
Here are 14 natural methods to help you get rid of slugs — and most of them probably involve things that you already have at home. If you’re thinking of starting a garden this year, it’s essential that you get a head start on the slugs, not only be combating them effectively, but also by giving your seedlings plenty of time to mature so that they stand a fighting chance against the slugs!
- Hand picking & wooden boards. Although it’s pretty icky, just going out in the early morning and grabbing those bastards where they lay munching away is a great way to get rid of them. You can also plant some things that will really attract the slugs and let them crawl onto them for easier picking. Particularly good trap crops for slugs include hostas, green lettuce, cabbage, calendula, marigolds, comfrey leaves, zinnias and beans.
- Beer traps — We used beer traps all the time in our garden with great success. The slugs are attracted to the yeast and barley in the beer, so they crawl into the cup and drown. All you need are some jars or plastic cups and cheap beer. Any kind will do. Dig a hole so that the cup can sit level with the ground (making it easier for the slugs to climb in, fill the cup about 2/3 full with beer and let it sit. After a rain, you’ll need to refresh the beer. And watch out if you have dogs because they will drink it, slugs and all. Also, if you dump the beer on the ground, make sure the slugs are all dead because they usually stay alive in there for a while.
- Corn meal traps – Also extremely effective and very easy to set up, just collect some old glass jars (baby food jars or old mayo jars work great) and put a few spoonfuls of corn meal or polenta in there. Then lay the jar on its side under your plants. The slugs will crawl in, eat the flour and then crawl away and die. You will definitely notice slug trails in the cornmeal to indicate they’ve taken the bait. And you don’t have to worry about the dog getting to it either.
- Ammonia can be sprayed directly on slugs to kill them (much like salt) and you can spray diluted ammonia /water solutions (about 1/8 cup ammonia to 1 gallon water) around your plants to deter slugs. But once it dries, the slugs will be back…and if you put this on your plants, you run the risk of burning the leaves and killing your plants (true story). Not such a smooth idea!
- Cultivation of the soil (especially before a freeze) will help kill hibernating slugs and eggs is a rather promising option…especially since we’re ultimately going to need to till everything before planting anyway. But don’t go down too deep if you’ve got wandering weed problems because you can often stir up dormant seeds.
- Broken egg shells — Slugs typically don’t like crawling over things that are sharp and can cut up their bodies. After cracking open the eggs, just rinse the shells and let them air dry. They crush them up coarsely. You’ll need a pretty good, dense force field around your plants but I found the egg shells piled up quickly when I stored them up over the winter.
- Coffee grounds — The acidity in coffee grounds will deter slugs from crawling over them. Sprinkle it around your plants that you want to protect and it can also help fertilize them as well. Roses really love coffee grounds, so if you plant lettuce under them (as we did in our courtyard), you can fertilize the roses and keep the slugs out of your salad.
- Pine needles –Use pine needle mulch around your tasty plants. The pine needles, like coffee grounds, are acidic and slugs prefer alkaline environments. Oak leaves are also known to deter slugs.
- Sand — Have some extra sand from your child’s sand box or replacing it with some new stuff? Generously distribute sand around young plants early in the spring and slugs will back off. They don’t like the rough, coarseness of it because it cuts up their stomachs.
- Use commercial organic slug barrier — There are products on the market that are organic which you can put down around your plants which creates a gel barrier that slugs don’t want to crawl over. No clue what is in it and never got around to using it in our own garden, but it’s supposed to be great and easy to use.
- Use repellent plants — Ginger, garlic, mint, chives, red lettuce, red cabbage, sage, sunflower, fennel, foxglove, mint, chicory and endive seem to be less prone to slug attack, so you can create a ring of these plants around your garden to keep slugs at bay. In fact, red plants in general are said to repel slugs — but they sure did love eating our red kohlrabi so I don’t know if that holds true. This will only help if the slugs haven’t already laid eggs within your garden or are not living under your plants already. But it can keep additional slugs from moving in.
- Copper — This is said to be one of the absolute best methods for keeping slugs away, and you can use things like copper tubing or even just copper tape. Unfortunately, here in Germany, copper anything is very expensive so this method was never tested by us. But the copper is said to react with the slugs’ skin and burns them as they cross it, so they stay back.
- Ground beetles – If you’d like to take the natural predator route, ground beetles are one option. They like to live under wooden boards during the day. And since slugs often hang out under boards as it heats up, the become the perfect pray for beetles.
- Frogs – They prefer damp sites & a quarter of their diet may comprises slugs. So add a little pond in your garden (which can be really nice with a small waterfall as well) and make a happy habitat for frogs, and you’ll end up with less slugs.
- Encourage birds – One of the easiest ways to attract birds is to put out food for them. Birds you really want to attract include blackbirds and starlings because they love slugs. Thrushes, robins, rooks, crows, jays, ducks, seagulls and owls will also eat slugs. And if you can get yourself a duck or chicken (or loan one out from someone) they are also great to have in a garden from time to time to get rid of slugs — but just make sure they don’t stay in too long and eat all your plants themselves!
What are your best tips to get rid of slugs?
This post is linked up to the Home Acre Hop
Featured Natural Living Posts from Last Week’s Linky
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